Monk Seal Fact Files
Mediterranean Monk Seal
International coordination of monk seal conservation and recovery efforts remains weak and haphazard, despite being identified as a key objective of the UN’s action plan for the species under the broader Mediterranean Action Plan administered through the Barcelona Convention (UNEP/MAP 1987, Johnson & Lavigne 1998, 1999b). The UN’s Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA) based in Tunis, is nominally vested with the responsibility for international coordination. Of late, however, there has been growing disenchantment among monk seal research and conservation entities with RAC/SPA’s role and performance (Johnson ed. 2003, Güçlüsoy 2004).
In 2000, under the auspices of the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species, a new Regional Action Plan was developed by the Atlantic range states of the species – Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal and Spain – to improve coordination of conservation actions, and to design, develop and implement cooperative conservation measures in the region. Since its creation, numerous monk seal conservation efforts have been carried out in Mauritania and Atlantic Morocco within the Plan’s framework (CMS 2004, González et al. 2002).
International information exchange, another key component of the monk seal conservation blueprint, was initially spearheaded by the Newsletter of the League for the Conservation of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, published under IUCN auspices by the College of Biological Science at Guelph University, Canada, the prime mover of the 1978 Rhodes conference. Ten issues of the Newsletter were published between 1976 and 1992.
Lack of subsequent coordination and information exchange efforts were blamed for fostering a climate in which fragmented and ill-considered actions were able to thrive, some posing potentially serious threats to monk seals (Johnson & Lavigne 1998).
Proving particularly contentious between 1990 and 1995 were captive breeding and translocation schemes, approved, funded and pursued without adequate consultation or review by the wider scientific and conservation community (Johnson & Lavigne 1994, 1998). Widespread misgivings eventually forced the abandonment of both schemes, though not without first exacting their own toll in diverting labour and scarce resources from more urgent priorities.
In an effort to establish a consensus on the fundamental principles by which monk seal conservation might best be guided, a set of broad-ranging Conservation Guidelines were compiled in 1995, drawing exclusively upon conference resolutions and action plans spanning the years 1978 to 1994 (Johnson & Lavigne 1998).
The Conservation Guidelines were subsequently endorsed by 78 marine mammalogists and other professionals involved in the study and conservation of the monk seal.
In a subsequent move to encourage international information exchange, as well as wider public support for conservation efforts, the inaugural issue of a new Internet and hardcopy journal dedicated to monk seals and their habitat was published in 1998. Since its launch, The Monachus Guardian has carried news, articles and comment from across the range of the species, thereby creating an information exchange network for the scientists and conservationists involved in the study and protection of the monk seal, as well as an information source for the general public, students and journalists.
The Monachus Guardian was launched with financial backing of the International Marine Mammal Association (IMMA) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Following IFAW’s withdrawal in 2001, the journal received backing from the Bellerive Foundation of the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and WWF International for one year.
Produced since 2003 on an almost exclusively voluntary basis, the journal’s future is currently described as uncertain.
The hardcopy annual compendium was discontinued in 2000, also due to funding limitations.
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